a trilogy of three novels

 R.C. Westerholm



Some excerpts from the novels


   Cynthia was warming to some arcane idea. She said, "Do you know the theory that many criminals actually seek death? They climb toward it all their lives, perhaps because of something in their pasts. They actually want to be caught and punished. They want to be set free from the demons in their minds. They need death, Mr. Haugen." She was preoccupied with death.

"I have heard that one but I leave the definitions to the psychologists."

"A poet I know penned these lines;
    'I have a rendezvous    with Death, which no one can deny, I mustn't keep the gateman waiting, I must be there on time.'
It is exactly about death wish."

"Your friend has a death wish?"

"Sadly, I believe that may be so." Her mouth turned down.
Who was this morbid friend? Was she going to try to convince me that Darlene Parkinson had a death wish?

She continued, "It may be what compels a criminal to remain in the bank long enough for the police to arrive. You see, subconsciously, he knows there'll be a shootout, knows he must die. He waits too long on purpose."

"Death by cop? Incredible, not in that situation," I scoffed, "he wants to get away and spend the money. Buy drugs."

"No, that's what WE think he wants to do, down deep he has to face death. He doesn't know why himself but he has to do it."

"Because he's too chicken to face life?"

"Are you familiar with Shakespeare? Listen to this quote from Caesar; 'Cowards die many times before their deaths, the valiant never taste of death but once.' "

"So bank robbers are valiant now?"

"Courage takes many forms, Mr. Haugen. A definition for every mind."

"I'm just trying to solve what I think has been a terrible crime. And your best friend Darlene is dead."

"I hope you have the courage to solve it, Mr. Haugen, when the time comes. If there was a crime."

"I know I do. And I know there was."

She arose to leave, "I hope you're not disappointed, I wouldn't want to see you miss getting your reward.  It's what we all seek. There comes a time of crisis in everyone's life when you need to ask of yourself at that inscribed moment when you are cut; Which is more? This stream of my own blood? Or the waters of the four oceans?"
She laughed lightly and I realized what had changed so drastically about her in the last few seconds. Her eyes had faded from the blue to a very pale green, a cloudy celadon gray-green. They were beautiful. As she left the restaurant I thought maybe, just maybe, they were telling me something after all.


   Cinny said, "Is Doc on the way? Did Michael call him?"

Jack Murphy turned his attention to Cinny and his look softened. "He's comin'. Why you doin' this for this guy?"

"He needs help, Jack. I'd do it for you too."
"How much is the room?" I said.

Murphy took this as a smartass remark. Growled, "I could bust the other arm for you." He folded the Popeye forearms across his chest, they expanded to resemble the legs of a Clydesdale. Most of the tattoos were blue but there were dabs of red and green as well. The word Death somehow stood clear of the circuitous designs. I had no doubt he could break arms, knew he'd done it before.

"Jack, don't, he's badly hurt ..."
Murphy looked at her, gentleness in his expression. I was involved in a triangle whether I wanted it or not.

"You said you wouldn' be back. Your stuff's in that box there."

There was a cardboard apple box near the door, filled with Cinny's personal hygiene products.

"I know what I said and it's true, but ... we needed Doc Morse, you can see that."

"Why you even mixed up with this prick?"

"Hey ... " I started to rise dizzily from the bed.

Murphy stepped forward. Cinny jumped between us.

"Look, I need some help here," I said, "you wouldn't be happy with yourself if you broke my other arm anyway, not picking on a poor little shit like me when I can't .."

"You can't awright," he said quickly.

"Can you say, Oy yam what oy yam?" I muttered, mimicking Popeye.


"Maybe you should call Doc again?" Cinny asked, trying to defuse the situation.

Jack Murphy never took his stare off me. Never once glanced at my bleeding arm. He was built like a water buffalo. "Michael called 'im awready."

"Want to make a deal, Murph'?" I asked.

Suspicion narrowed his snake eyes. "What kinda deal would I make with you, Sport?"

"We'll have a truce, I'll get the bullet out of my arm, we wait a couple of weeks and then I kick the shit out of you."

Murphy leaped at me. Cinny screamed. I rolled off the other side of the bed, crushing my bloody arm as I did but he was flat on his face as I struck him with a left-handed shuto. My focus was gone and I hit the side of his neck and shoulder. The mattress absorbed more of the blow than he did. I fell back to the wall, waiting for his onslaught, hoping my legs would work. There was a hard knock at the door. Cinny quickly opened it and a huge black-haired man stood there with the diminutive Doc Morse cowering behind him, little black bag in hand. I knew Michael Houlihan right away. Murphy was coming at me, rubbing the side of his neck where I had got him.

Houlihan roared, "Murphy! Fuck off!" They barged into the room, slammed the door. This guy looked like a REAL fighter, huge, bony and cat-quick.

Popeye Forearms stopped, snarled, "You got lucky there, Sport. You got a deal, don't wait too long though or I'll come lookin'."

He raised his eyebrows and nodded his head, kept repeating the action until I did.
"Deal," I said with false bravery, "see you soon. Keep training. Eat your spinach."
Murphy glanced at Houlihan, back at me with his best rattlesnake glare and left.

Cinny said, "Thanks, Michael. Thanks a ton."

Michael said, ignoring me, "Cinny. You're stayin' outa street work for sure now. Are ya not? That is what ya told us. Can we take it as the gospel?" A tinge of Irish brogue.

"For sure."

"This lad mean somethin' to ya, does he?"

The little bald doctor made his first comment, "He's not exactly a lad."

I immediately disliked him.




   DAY 1   Monday.  That morning you wouldn't have heard a scream across the broad green lawns surrounding the asylum. The hissing rain muffled other sounds as though concealing a whispered secret. Was accompanied by a stealthy floating mist you could hardly see through. The white painted lawn chairs looked forlorn, desolate. Even the dark trees seemed hunched over, protecting themselves against the cold foggy drizzle and the gaze of the curious.

If Marie hadn't been there to help, I might have blown everything. I might have had to stay in the asylum. Might have been better if I had. Five people would still be alive.  

That morose morning, Dr. Fredrickson was supposed to be there to sign my release papers at 10 a.m. My incarceration in the regional mental hospital for the criminally insane should have ended then. He was late. There was nothing to do but wait. Sit on the hard oak chairs and wait. A few hours longer wouldn't make much difference. It was like a dream state. Sitting there watching occasional lethargic movement from the nurses, who seemed to murmur without moving their lips. Sometimes a sibilance reached my ears but I could never identify a distinct word. The nurses became unfocused white blurs against the pale green walls. And rustling hosiery. I stared at a framed print entitled Road with Cypresses, by Vincent Van Gogh. It should have created a simple impression of light and pleasant color, something to relax the inmates. Or, if you knew nothing of the artist's life, a sense of hope. I saw it as dizzying frenetic swirls and the impression in my mind was of the bloody side of the man's head and the anguish that raged within. A violent, coloured Rorschach.

While we sat there waiting, two thoughts dominated my mind, freedom and time. I regard them as closely related.

Freedom. I don't define it from a patriotic charismatic point of view, as in a national anthem sense, that's liberty. Freedom is different. I feel it as a selfish, lustful, personal greed. Freedom is to be alone without someone watching you, without guarding yourself, without analysis and squinting eyes. Freedom is letting your face loose. Laughing at what's funny. Frowning at what isn't. Not having to think about a decision or it's consequences. No black tricks to play, no blue subterfuge. No green games.

Time. During my twelve-year imprisonment, (for murder, I might as well tell you right out) I hardly thought about it. To a man sliding through his forties in a nebulous haze, time was oppressive. Time was heavy, draped around me, over my shoulders as a dusty old Persian rug, rolled with a dead body inside it. And I hadn't considered it with any intellect for a long, long while.

By eleven o'clock my thoughts about freedom and time were so acutely centered it was a psychedelic LSD trip. I could SEE a moment moving through history. Seconds were flickering scarlet laser beams which came FROM infinity and blasted right past me on their way TO infinity. A sudden blinding SOS from an obscure corner of space, or the view inside a fibre optics cable. And I could HEAR time. A speeded up recording of thunder, bump bump bump, and somehow it smelt like burnt firecrackers. Freedom was very nearly an explosion. I was the inside of the grenade.

Fredrickson showed at 3:37:20 in the afternoon. The gray-black sky had become confused for several hours until a bright white light emerged between the clouds, almost at 3:30. If that wasn't a sign, I don't know what was.   I finally walked away from that sullen gray building without a backward glance.

If it was still there when Marie and I drove off I wouldn't have known it. Besides, I didn't want to meet Fredrickson's eyes, I knew he was watching, his face near to the misted window pane, absently touching his moustache. I knew what he was thinking too. He wanted me to turn and wave, like a child going off to the first day of school. He wanted me to smile up at him. He wanted confirmation he was right - that during the five hours thirty-seven minutes he had delayed, we had been playing the final Green Game.

No way. Our minds are now inexorably linked. I wasn't even going to acknowledge him.   Psychiatrists betray their own emotions, they're so concerned with yours that they let THEIR thoughts hang out like Chinese laundry on a bamboo pole. They don't even know they do it.

I always knew what Fredrickson was thinking.


   I got off the bus to buy an early newspaper. It had a small square at the bottom recounting the evening's events. I read it anxiously;


  4th Woman Brutally Slain

A fourth 'C' prostitute was savagely murdered last night on the Strip. The latest victim is 25 year old Candy Lane, also known as Kandy Kane, a part-time exotic dancer. Her life was ended with a vicious blow to the head. A police spokesman said they are convinced it is the so-called Karate Killer. Homicide detectives are following several leads and expect to make an arrest any moment.

A reliable source indicates the killer is believed to be a mental patient suffering from paranoid schizophrenia and may have used phony police identification and a revolver to allay suspicions and gain the confidence of his victims.

The series of killings has struck fear into the area because of their violence. The Strip is an older community of X-rated adult theaters and topless clubs frequented by runaways, street people and prostitutes. All the women have had names beginning with the letter C and all are believed to have been working as prostitutes. It is thought the killer may have recently been ... Con't page 5 see karate

The article continued by recapping the murders to date, but nothing new was added, except they now had a catchy phrase for their suspect and they were publishing the 'C' name aspect. And they were, according to an 'unnamed source', looking for me. Even if they didn't spell out my name. I was 'on the lam.' A fugitive.


   The chess club. Fredrickson was sitting in the cafeteria, sipping something opaquely yellow. His mustache curled as he saw me. His heavy brown brogues jutted from beneath the table. I thought, you could kill someone with those beasts.


"Doctor." I stood there looking at him.

"Sit down, Yuli." He screeched a chair across the wood floor.

"Um, something about this place. Getting bad vibes. Can we go somewhere else?"

Surprise. "What? The food is very good here, in spite of the cafeteria atmosphere."

"I'm a little on edge today. Too much clatter here."

He paused and listened a moment. As if trying to hear an animal stalking us.

"Of course. Anywhere you wish." He raised his chin, arose. picked up his folded raincoat and ignored the nearly full drink. I could tell he was pissed off with me because I had destroyed his psychological advantage of being in familiar surroundings

"I saw a place just around the block when I got off the bus." And he didn't need to know I had a car either. His eyes were full of question as he followed me out.

We walked side by side. The first time I realized Fredrickon was such a solid man. He rolled along with the casual gait of an old horse. "It's a glorious day, Yuli." Glanced up at the sky. "I expected rain when I left home." Indicated his coat. Folded neatly over his arm now. There was a strong breeze. Fresh. Invigorating. Bracing my courage.

I stopped, said, "You wouldn't be wearing a wire, would you?" 

"A what?" He looked incredulous, grey eyebrows danced as he said it.

"A wire, a recording device. You're not here on behalf of the police?"

Now he seemed angry, maybe even hurt, opened his arms wide and I could feel for the transmitter if I wanted to. I didn't.

He resumed walking. "Yuli, you know about patient doctor privilege. Anything you say to me cannot be revealed, even in a court of law. You of all people should know that. Our relationship is sacrosanct."

"I know a lot about the law, Doctor, and the police. You can't trust either."

He slowed, "Would you confide in me if you had something to hide? Or something to tell me."

I paused, finally answered, "I don't think so."

Now he did look hurt.

We entered a small restaurant. A Chinese lady showed us to a vacant table. They were all vacant. Placed soiled menus in front of us. I sat facing the door. Watching. Fredrickson was observing my behaviour with interest.

"You feel the police are after you, Yuli. Anyone else?"

"This is a bad time for me. I need to work some things out."

He spoke with slowness, "And is it because of these murdered prostitute girls? Would that be correct?"

"Yes, you know it is but I didn't have anything to do with them."

"Yuli, have you taken your medications?"



   "Yes. It's pink, and it's gay." The man stood posing in the open doorway of the office. Would I ever have guessed? Pink suit, gray silk shirt and a loosened teal blue tie. Black roots under yellowy antique hair that was tucked in at the back before exploding into a fuzzy pony tail. He wore Gucci loafers.

A slim, Hispanic looking man stood behind him loaded down with rolls of wallpaper, cloth swatches and carpeting sample books. He had a thin mustache and black braided pigtail with a blue ribbon woven into it. He wore black jeans which seemed to have been spray painted onto him. An oversize tank top exposed only the scant black hairs on his chest. A sheen of sweat on his forehead.

"I'm sorry?" I asked. Cinny couldn't hold back her smile. Pink Man pointed a manicured glossy finger at me. "I have your contract Yuli Haugen You are Yuli Haugen Of course you are you're a detective I've never DONE a detective before Have you seen the Maltese Falcon Bogey I love him."

He said everything without drawing breath, stepped into the bare office and walked around looking up at the ceiling as if there was something important up there. I think the idea was, we were supposed to watch him. A floral odor wafted around him like a scented aura.

"Excuse me, I'm not sure I understand."

"Of course you don't, Smith, Cline and all those black suit bozos on the fifteenth floor have commissioned me to decorate your offices I do many things for that firm You'll love it, Yuli Haugen."

He noticed Cinny. His eyes seemed to linger on her breasts. "Ooooh, built, very nice, I never touch them myself but I do like to look at them It's a Mommy thing, the one concession I make to the darker sex." His little partner scowled.

"Shall we get to it, Yuli Haugen?" He held both hands crossing his chest. We laughed. The man was outrageous, knew it and had a terrific sense of humor about it.

"Fill your boots. This is all new to me too, as long as I'm not paying the bill."

"Vulgarity We never talk about money money, but to set your mind at ease I'm being paid a disgraceful fee to do this, Yuli, may I call you Yuli? Of course, thank you, you'll love it and PULEASE don't come up with any ideas of your own."

He glanced again at Cinny. Then back at me, raising his left eyebrow. "Sweet thing isn't she?"

"I love your suit," she said laughing. "What was your name again?"         

He clutched both hands to his head. "How dumb-dumb," he shuddered, "I loathe dumb-dumb." Handed her a card.

Cinny read it, "Veeder VanLuven, Decorature Extraordinair. Sounds wonderful." He bowed like a knight, "At your service, Milady."

She looked at his assistant. Veeder said, almost with disdain, "And this is BJ." I didn't dare ask what BJ stood for.

He continued in his machine-gun rhythm. "Your office furniture should start arriving today, desks file cabinets chairs, some incuredible chairs all those necessary things I've ordered most of it already. Someone else is looking after the computers and, and the functional equipment. My purpose is to give you that image, that feeling, that strength that says, YES! I can do it!  I love detectives they're so macho aren't they? Sam Spade, Philip Marlowe, the one played by Mitchum of course, Mike Hammer, the Ralph Meeker version when he drove the XK-150 Jaguar Don't you just esteem them?"

Veeder VanLuven had obviously researched the subject of private detectives. Fictional, of course.

"I'm not sure, uh, Mr. VanLuven.?


"I may be more the Inspector Morse type." He was the only recent detective I knew of.

"No, no, no, of course you're not, drinking beer through your nose, you're private, a PI, hard boiled, cynical, quick with the wit and quicker with the fists, you get involved against your will with mysterious rich women, throw them aside and always come back to your won-der-ful secretary." He grinned at Cinny and she laughed aloud. They both laughed heartily. "Isn't it silly?" he said.


 The jungle closed in. We listened, trying to hear a footfall beneath the mutter of the wind. Stood still, expecting something to happen. Dry tree branches rattled and fern fronds flailed at the edge of the clearing where a capricious wisp flashed through. Scattered petals from a yellow blossoming bush swirled to the ground like lemon snowflakes. I could hear a crow somewhere, its scolding voice carrying on the hot air.

We started along the narrower trail, gently pushing branches aside. There were several more homemade wind chimes, each with an individual harmonious sound.
I had just glimpsed a piece of rusted tin through the trees when I heard the movement behind me.

"Don't you motherfuckers move or you die!"
He had Zac gripped with his left arm under Zac's and his left hand behind his head, a half nelson. In the browned skin of his right hand was a long bladed commando knife, pressed hard against Zac's throat.
Zac was staring at me. And I was staring into stainless steel eyes.

"We won't do anything stupid. Are you Nathan Browne?"

He pressed the honed edge of the blade tighter into Zac's throat. His features were hard to recognize because they were colored with black and green irregular spots, jungle make-up, but even then I knew right away who he was. The man I was facing was Zac's brother. Cynthia's brother. The resemblance was striking even though Nathan appeared much older. He wore a baggy camouflage jacket.
The steel eyes shone with hostility. "Who the fuck are you? Why you lookin' for me?"

"We have a mission to find you," Zac said. He was hanging limp in Nathan's arms but twisted his head trying to look at him.

"Fuck you asshole! The mission's over." He batted Zac's hat off with the long blade. There was a dark blue tattoo on the back of his right hand, the head of a fire-breathing dragon and the word Khesanh.

I said, "We have some very good news for you. Please let him go. We mean no harm."
He only readjusted the knife. Zac's skin was white along the crease and the edge of the blade glinted where it had been often sharpened.

Zac tried to straighten his body, raised his voice, a different Zac spoke, "It is destiny which leads me to arrive here. A destiny which commands you as well. You must carry out your own mission. Time has converged upon us, now there is none left, do it! You must slice through the softness of the man you clasp. It is preordained. This IS your purpose.?"
It had to be the other Zac talking. He began pulling against Nathan's grip.

"I'm gonna slice your fuckin' throat in another minute."

"Yes! Yes! You must. There can be no hesitation. Commit the act which sets us all free!"
Nathan was having a hard time controlling Zac. His eyes went wild and his hand tightened on the knife.

"You're dead, man!  I'll slice your head off! I done it before." Zac was trying to lurch away.

"If you do," I yelled, "you'll be killing your own brother!"

The steel eyes landed on me, darkened into a slate gray. His hand grabbed at Zac's hair and pulled his head back violently. He tried to see Zac's face without taking his eyes from mine. I raised my hands to keep them in his sight.

Zac's eyes flashed a laser green, as though I had betrayed a family secret. I had. His incredulous look was because I knew. He was breathing in huge gasps. "You must do it! Draw the sacred blade along the devil's skin. It must be done. I as Michael, command it!"

Nathan flung Zac to the ground in one movement, cutting the front of his throat slightly as he withdrew the blade and at the same time drawing an Army issue Colt .45, aimed it with a shaky hand.


© R.C. Westerholm   © R.C. Westerholm   © R.C. Westerholm




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